Sometimes, food gets boring. You’ve eaten pizza for 18 days in a row. Your pasta skills are so polished that every bowl now tastes the same. That salad you loved is starting to taste like nothing because you’ve eaten it at work one too many times.
I get it.
But what if, instead of needing to make new things, you could simply add things to the recipes you already love? Enter: 5 tiny but game-changing tricks for snazzing up a boring meal.
Trick #1: Add a bold flavor
When I’m bored with something, my first trick is to try to add a new component — after all, nothing improves a dish like a hit of lemon. My go tos for big flavor adds are lemon, avocado, bacon, caramelized onions, and cheese — but that’s just a starting point.
What do I put those flavors on?
- Zest lemon onto roasted veggies, with salt, pepper and olive oil, before they go into the oven — then finish them with a squeeze of lemon before eating. In a pinch, you can even use lemon as a salad dressing all on its own, and I squeeze it onto everything from pizzas to grain bowls to avocado toast. I even drink water with lemon in it for an afternoon boost.
- Add chunks of avocado to any sandwich or soup or salad. I also love it smashed on toast with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.
- Bacon makes the world go round — on pastas and pizzas, and in sandwiches and quiches and salads.
- Cheese improves any boring desk lunch with minimal effort, whether you’re eating a grain bowl, a salad or a sandwich — and you don’t need much! Try feta or goat cheese, to mix things up.
- Caramelized onions are my favorite addition to every single thing I make. Add them to sandwiches and burgers. Put them on salads. Stir them into any pasta dish or pizza for an immediate flavor boost.
Trick #2: Put an egg on it
It’s no secret that I love eggs. I put them on everything. Yes, they’re a great breakfast food — but I like eggs even better when they’re on my lunches and dinners. If you keep the yolks creamy, they turn into a sauce for pasta or salad or soup. The flavor of the yolk adds a creamy undertone to anything you’re making, and the egg white changes up the texture of any dish just enough to make it interesting.
How do I make that egg?
Recently, I’ve been loving the 6-minute egg, which comes out of the pan looking like a hardboiled egg but with a runnier, creamy yolk. I’m also a big fan of the straight up fried egg and I’ll never turn down a poached egg, either.
What do I put it on?
- Top pasta (any kind, but especially a dish with red sauce or pesto, or even just noodles with butter) with a fried egg, breadcrumbs, parmesan sauce, and black pepper.
- Add a 6-minute egg to any soup — especially miso ramen or minestrone. When the yolk breaks, it adds huge flavor to the broth.
- Top salads with 6-minute eggs or poached eggs. When their yolks break, they become a sort of salad dressing.
- All sandwiches deserve a fried egg. Burgers, too.
- Making roasted veggies? Eggs on top, always.
- Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it: fried eggs on pizza. Cook your pizza in the oven, then slide already fried eggs onto the pie. Or, if you want to get fancy, crack the eggs onto the pie before it goes into the oven. They’ll bake into over-medium goodness.
- Eggs on toast: So easy but delicious, and made even better with any kind of schmear (pesto, cheese, butter, jam…)
Trick #3: Dress it up
Learning how to make a homemade dressing is a key kitchen skill for any person who wants to save money, eat flavorful food, and feel like a pro. The best news? It’s incredibly easy, too.
How do I make dressing?
For a basic vinaigrette, mix oil + vinegar + salt + pepper. Oil and vinegar should be added in a 3:2 ratio. Once you’ve got the basics down, though, go wild. My favorite dressing uses dijon mustard, minced garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Other delicious, super basic dressing variations can be found here: http://www.food.com/recipe/basic-vinaigrette-dressing-with-8-variations-213989
What do I put it on?
As you might imagine, dressings are great for salads. In fact, just changing the dressing on a salad might be all you need to start loving that meal again. But why stop there? I drizzle dressings on roasted veggies, on grain bowls, and I even put them on my sandwiches. I’ve even gone so far as to drizzle a pizza with some dressing right after it comes out of the oven — and the right dressing can pair wonderfully with pasta, too.
Trick #4: Change the base
My favorite “I’m bored of this food” game is trying to reimagine the dish with a different base. For example, I went through a period of time where I was obsessed with eating bananas, almond butter and honey on toast. I ate it every day for breakfast until one day, I woke up and felt completely disgusted with the dish. I’d overdosed on banana toast.
But when I started adding those ingredients to other bases, I was happy to find that I could still tolerate them. Bananas and almond butter on waffles? Yes, please. A banana & almond butter wrap sprinkled with granola? Hell yeah. I even made banana and almond butter quesadillas with dark chocolate chips, and I ate parfaits with the same ingredients.
The bottom line is that you might just be tired of how you’re preparing ingredients, not the ingredients themselves.
Here are some classic mixups to get you started:
- Any sandwich can be turned into a salad, or vise versa. Tomato basil mozzerella sandwiches are great. But turning that sammie into a lovely salad, drizzled with balsamic, with a hunk of toasted, garlic-y bread on the side could be even better.
- If you love salads, try changing up the base. Instead of lettuce, try grains like brown rice or quinoa or farro. Instead of grains, try pasta drizzled in olive oil. Instead of pasta, try dumping all the ingredients onto a sandwich, or putting them in a wrap.
- Most pastas can become flatbreads or pizzas. Loving that classic dish with meatballs, tomato sauce and parmesan cheese? Dump it on pre-made pizza dough. Love carbonara? Eggs and bacon are just as good on a crust.
- Take that one more step and turn any pizza into a quiche. Cheese, meat, sauce, eggs, veggies… swoon.
Trick #5: Herbify
I’ve only recently started appreciating the huge difference in taste that I get when I add fresh or dried herbs to my meals. My favorites, at the moment, are basil, parsley, cilantro, cumin and chives.
What do I put it on?
- Cumin is perfect for adding smokey flavors to the things you’re roasting. I love it on roasted potatoes and roasted carrots, especially if those veggies are topped with a bit of yogurt and cilantro post-roast. If you need to update your sad desk lunch, pop a batch of veggies in the oven with cumin, olive oil, salt and pepper on a Sunday evening. Then add them to a grain bowl and rejoice.
- Basil works in all things Italian, but it’s also awesome in any asian food. I add it to pasta salad, pasta, pizza, roasted veggies, and even miso ramen.
- Cilantro brings citrus-y life to mediterranean and mexican foods. I add it to roasted veggies, cuts of fish, bland sauces, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and broth.
- Parsley has more of a pepper-y flavor, so it’s better on Italian food.
- I put chives in and on everything: I mix them into cream cheese, stir them into my eggs, top cheese dips and pizzas with them, and even bake them into quiches and sprinkle them onto sandwiches.
How do I keep fresh herbs from going bad before I use them?
Store cilantro and parsley like flowers in the fridge, in bunches resting in cups of water. Basil can be made into pesto when the leaves start going brown.
What’s your favorite “pep up a meal” trick? Bon appetit!